Seven by Cara Stolen


Seven years ago today, on the hottest day of the summer, we stood on the saddle house porch at 4:00 pm surrounded by our immediate family and eight of our closest friends. As sweat poured down our backs we answered “I do” to our friend Perry’s questions of “will you?” and promised to love each other, take care of each other, and stand beside each other in good times and bad. Like most people who get married in their early twenties, we couldn’t possibly know what any of those vows entailed, but we said them like we meant it and sealed them with a kiss.

It feels like yesterday, and like a lifetime ago. Time is funny like that. 

I told someone the other day that, based on our “dating” relationship, Levi and I never should have gotten married. It was tongue-in-cheek, but also: I meant it. We were, put mildly, a mess. Young, dumb, and stubborn; fresh out of long-term relationships to boot.

And yet, here we are. Seven years, six houses, five pickups, and two kids later. 

Yesterday morning I walked across that same saddle house porch with Maggie on my hip. I watched Levi slip a headstall over General Lee’s head and hand Royce the reins. Then he shortened the stirrups of my saddle, slipped a bit into Dinero’s mouth, and took Mags from me. By the time I swung my leg over Dinero’s back he was on his own horse; Maggie snug in front of him. 

I grinned at him, and we were off. 

Riding behind him, I watched his back and thought about how glad I am I said those “I do’s” on that dusty, hot porch all those years ago. While our life together has been much harder than I ever could have imagined, it’s much, much better than I imagined, too. And I can say with utmost certainty that we’re happier now than we were in the beginning. 

I remember once, early in our marriage, taking a walk after we had a fight. I was fuming mad, and kept thinking I’d made the biggest mistake of my life marrying him. Somehow, those vows had not transformed him into a perfect, selfless man like I’d expected them to and he was still, well, him. 

In those early months (and years) I spent a lot of time focusing on the ways in which our marriage and Levi disappointed me. I looked at all the couples around us and thought they were happier, more stable, and more content than we were. I envied them, and convinced myself that my friends had perfect marriages and perfect husbands. But, as we grew up, I realized I was wrong—nobody’s marriage is perfect. Nobody’s husband is perfect. And not even everyone’s marriage is happy. 

I read once that “what you look for, you find.” I think that phrase is true of a lot of things, but I know it’s true in marriage, because those six little words made all the difference in ours. If you want to see all the ways your spouse is falling short and all they ways they fail you … you will. But if you decide to focus instead on the ways they love you well? The ways they serve you? Support you? Cheer you on? You’ll find those, too. 

This morning, as Levi leaned off his horse to get the gate for Royce and I in a fluid, confident motion, I thought about how glad I am that I learned to stop comparing our relationship to everyone else’s. Instead, at some point, I decided to love the marriage I have and the man I married for what/who they are. I stopped focusing on what isn’t and learned to see only what is: a strong, steady marriage to a man who loves me better with each passing year and a stable, caring partner in life who serves our family in all the ways we need him to. 

Our marriage is undoubtedly different than every other marriage in the world. But that’s okay, because it works for us, which is all that really matters. 

Cheers to seven years, sweets. It really does get better every year. 


Wedding photography by Hailey Haberman Photography.

Dear Maggie by Cara Stolen


My Dearest Darling Maggie Girl,

Today is your first birthday! I can’t believe it’s been a year since you were born. This year has been one of the hardest and best years of my life, filled with more joy and heartache than I ever imagined possible. Together we navigated your difficult start in this world, learning and growing as the months marched on. At one, you are sassy and sweet, silly and determined, and your quick, easy grin is a daily reminder that life doesn’t need to be taken so seriously all the time.

You love being right in the center of the action, and will crawl and climb your way there whenever possible, often sitting on top of me when I read bedtime stories to Royce. But you are also independent, and will wander off to play by yourself sometimes. You hate to sit still, and already use your voice to communicate--yelling with annoyance or shrieking in joy at your brother’s antics.

You love to eat, and will wave both hands in the air to ask for a snack when I cook dinner. Avocados and Strawberries are your favorite, and you’ll smack your lips when you want more. But if I give you something you don’t like? You’ll throw it on the floor. You still nurse morning and night, and I treasure those quiet moments at the beginning and end of each day.

You took your first steps last week, while laughing at your brother and eating a graham cracker, which seems to fit your personality just right. It was bittersweet for me, watching you take those first toddling steps of independence. You walked right toward me, and I caught the first glimpse of you at 5, and 13, and 25. I can’t wait to see where those feet of yours take you in this big ‘ol world.

You ADORE your brother. While I know that your relationship will likely ebb and flow as you both grow up, I can’t help but hope it stays this way. The two of you love to play together, and hearing your joined giggles is the light of my life. He (of course) has taught you to make all sorts of funny noises, and our car rides are often punctuated by the two of you spitting or making ah-ah-ah noises with your hands across your mouths.

You like to play peek-a-boo, and giggle like crazy when we tickle you. You already have quite the sense of humor, and think its so hilarious to speed-crawl away from me during diaper changes, your little naked butt disappearing down the hallway in a flash. You say “mama” and “dada,” “hi!” and “boom!”

Bath time is your favorite, especially when you get to take a bath with your brother. You splash and giggle, and don’t seem to mind when Royce dumps water over your head or tries to “help” me wash your back. At bedtime, you snuggle chest to chest with me, tucking your head right under my chin, and it melts my heart every time.

Sweet girl, you bring so much joy to our family. I hope you always know how much we love you, and how much we delight in you. As you learn and grow, test boundaries (and my patience), and eventually take flight into the world, I hope you will always remember these few things:

Be kind. Always. The world is a better place when you are kind.

Laugh hard, and often. Laugh at yourself, laugh with others, laugh so hard it hurts, just so long as you keep laughing.

Be fearless. Try new things, even if you’re afraid. Fight for what you believe in and stand up for yourself and others.

Never settle. You deserve the very best this world has to offer you.

Be strong. Both physically and emotionally. Take care of your body, and your spirit. Feed both with goodness, and exercise both with dedication.

Be smart. Don’t follow the crowd, and don’t listen when others tell you it’s better to play dumb. Listen to your heart, and use your head.

Lastly, remember that you are unique, and beautiful, and enough. The God that made this exquisite world thought it would be better with you in it, and don’t you ever forget it. Be confident, and love yourself just exactly as you are.

Watching you grow is a gift I will never take for granted. Happy Birthday Maggie Mae.



Across The Hall by Cara Stolen


My alarm wakes me from a deep, exhausted sleep. It’s 5 am. Exactly 45 minutes ago I tiptoed back across the hall from your room and snuggled back under the covers of my cold side of the bed. I fumble for my phone to turn off the jingle, nudging your dad awake as I do, forgetting that I don’t have to whisper anymore. I sit up, and flip on my lamp—for the first time in 6 months.

It feels like an act of freedom, but is accompanied by the bitter aftertaste of sadness. For fifteen long months you slept inside of me, on me, or next to me. Your dad and I have exchanged sleepy good nights, heated words of anger, and loving words of appreciation in a barely audible whisper since you were born. We have grown accustomed to tiptoeing in our own bedroom. Silenced phones, flashlights, and showers in a barely lit bathroom have become normal.

But this morning was different. You were sleeping soundly in your own room when it was time for mommy and daddy to start their day. Ironically, we still caught ourselves whispering, even though we didn’t have to. Giggling, we congratulated ourselves on surviving the last six months. They’ve been long. And short. As any parent can tell you, babies distort time. No longer does time pass in a rhythmic, orderly fashion. Instead, hours can feel like days, while months feel like weeks.

This morning was the start of a new normal. A normal that will last much, much longer than six months. In a few weeks it will be hard for us to remember what it was like to tiptoe and whisper through our morning routine. But this morning the newness was palpable.

I’ve been waiting for this day for months. Dreaming of the freedom I would have when you were finally ready to sleep in your own room. Yet, even in my excitement, this morning feels a little melancholy. See, part of my heart is sleeping across the hall now. I missed it last night. I missed you this morning.

As with most milestones, this one is bittersweet. Your first clumsy toddle of independence. Preparing your daddy and I (and you) for the day you will fly our nest and spread your wings. Though that day seems like it’s a lifetime away, I know it will be here before I’m ready.